From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Panel Finds Bible Reading by Presbyterians Is Sporadic

Date 04 May 1996 16:06:08


96118     Panel Finds Bible Reading by Presbyterians Is Sporadic 
                      by Jerry L. Van Marter 
LOUISVILLE, Ky.--In a survey that revealed wide disparities between 
Presbyterian ministers and laypersons, the Research Services office of the 
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has found that members of the church read the 
Bible infrequently, if at all. 
     According to the Presbyterian Panel -- a random sample of several 
thousand Presbyterians in four groups: members, elders, pastors and 
specialized clergy -- few members (12 percent) or elders (5 percent) 
reported no individual Bible reading during the year preceding the February 
1995 survey.   
     However, 45 percent of both samples said they read the Bible 
individually "rarely," "at times but no regular pattern" or "once a month 
or less."  Added to the members (4 percent) and elders (6 percent) who 
answered "once every 2-3 weeks," clear majorities of both samples -- 62 
percent of members and 56 percent of elders -- reported no or infrequent 
individual Bible reading. 
     By contrast, almost two-thirds of pastors and nearly half of 
specialized clergy responded that they read the Bible "daily" or "almost 
     About one-third of members, 40 percent of elders and 79 percent of 
pastors reported that they participated in a Bible study group that met at 
least monthly. A majority of members said they never read the Bible in a 
group context outside worship. 
     And except for during Christian holidays, few panelists reported any 
Bible reading in a family context.  For example, only 6 percent of members 
and 5 percent of elders reported reading the Bible at family mealtimes. 
About one-fifth of both samples said they read the Bible at family 
mealtimes "occasionally," while less than 20 percent of both groups said 
they have a regular family Bible study time. 
     Pastors and specialized clergy reported more frequent Bible reading 
with their families, but still less than their reading in church groups. 
Fifty-nine percent of pastors reported participating in Bible study with 
church groups, but only 34 percent said they participate in family Bible 
reading on a regular basis.  Of the specialized clergy, 29 percent reported 
family Bible reading. 
     Ministers and laypersons vary in the version of the Bible they prefer 
to read.  Among ministers only two versions are widely preferred: the 
Revised or New Revised Standard Version (67 percent of pastors and 69 
percent of specialized clergy) and the New International Version (18 and 12 
percent, respectively).  No other translation is preferred by more than 4 
percent of either group. 
     Laypersons are much more diverse in their preferences, according to 
the Panel.  While a fourth of members and elders prefer the RSV/NRSV, even 
more -- 28 percent -- prefer the King James Version. Just under a fifth (19 
percent) prefer the New International Version, and 8 percent prefer Today's 
English or "Good News" versions. 
     Presbyterian Bible readers also divide their reading time equally 
between the Old and New Testaments.  About two-thirds of each group, 
ranging from 63 percent of elders to 70 percent of pastors, chose "I have 
read about equally from both the Old and New Testaments" when asked to 
describe the content of their Bible reading. 
     In choosing what to read in the Bible, two-thirds of all groups 
indicated that they are most apt to simply choose a passage at random.  The 
other prominent method is to pick a specific book of the Bible and read it 
all the way through.  About half of each group cited that method of 
deciding what to read in the Bible. 
     Members spend less time in a typical Bible reading session (15-44 
minutes) than pastors, about half of whom said they spend an hour or more 
in a typical reading session. 
     Bible reading appears directly related to age and belief in the 
infallibility of the Bible, according to the survey.  More than half of 
members over the age of 70 reported reading the Bible at least once a week. 
Only 29 percent of members under 40 said they read the Bible at least 
     An earlier Presbyterian Panel survey asked respondents to agree or 
disagree with the question, "As written in the original language, the Bible 
is infallible."  Of the members who agreed with that statement, 35 percent 
indicated that they read the Bible daily, while only 10 percent of those 
who disagreed with biblical infallibility reported that they read the Bible 
every day. 
     Only 5 percent of the members who believed in biblical infallibility 
said they never read the Bible, while 20 percent of members who disagreed 
with the biblical infallibility question said they never read the Bible. 
     Panelists were asked to indicate why they read the Bible.  The choices 
were "inspiration," "guidance," "information," "comfort" and 
"entertainment."  For all groups, the highest rated response was 
"inspiration" (74 percent of members and elders, 90 percent of pastors and 
86 percent of specialized clergy).  Next in order of importance were 
"guidance," "information" and "comfort." 
     Only 7 percent of members and pastors and 6 percent of elders and 
specialized clergy said they read the Bible for "entertainment." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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